A Weekend at a Finca: Week 234

The patio of Finca La Cristalina in Santagueda, Colombia

In Colombia it is very popular to rent a finca for the weekend, especially around the warm coffee-growing regions of Caldas. Fincas are country houses, often with pools, that are rented out to large groups of people.

There are several agencies in Manizales that deal specifically with finca listings and one of the most important things to consider is the capacity of the venue. It is much more common to rent the entire finca than it is to rent a single room- so you want to find the right place for the right number of people.

Santagueda is a popular destination for sun-seekers in Manizales. Although it is only an hour west, the lower elevation makes for a huge temperature difference. The drive down through the green valleys and moss-covered trees is beautiful. In the center of town we stopped at a supermarket to load up on ice and alcohol.

Since our finca had a pool, we were planning on lounging around it all weekend. While fincas are fully furnished, it is important to bring your own soap, dish washing implements, and extra toilet paper. And even if you did want to pay someone else to cook, you might still have to supply the food- so always bring enough food.

A motorcycle vendor selling ice cream at Finca La Cristalina: Santagueda, Colombia

Although, if you didn’t stock up on enough dessert, in Santagueda there are men on motorcycles that drive onto the fincas with ice cream-filled styrofoam boxes. My favorite flavor was the cheese and bocadillo.

Fincas are also very popular for family reunions and other special events. And if there is anything I have learned about these kind of events, it’s that loud music is very popular and there really isn’t a noise complaint culture. In fact, the name for a wake-up call at sunrise that involves a lot of noise is an alborada. My guess is that is also involves an early start for drinking.

So unless you are somewhere isolated or on a working finca (aka a farm), you might be close enough to your neighbors to hear their music blasting all day and night. We didn’t have loud music playing at our place, but the neighbor did. Despite blasting songs all night, I managed to sleep soundly till about 7am.

A tiny turtle found on the grounds of Finca La Cristalina: Santagueda, Colombia

Normally this would make me grumpy, but early morning in Santagueda was beautiful. I’ve heard so much about the bird variety in Colombia, but I hadn’t experienced any of it until I sat on the porch in the early morning. I put my legs up and watched the colorful birds swoop through the massive yard for a good hour or two. I even saw a tiny little turtle crawling through the stalks of grass.

One by one the others began to wake up around 9am. Massive skillets were pulled out of the kitchen and the beers started to crack open. Eggs and the hair of the dog was up for breakfast. I was really looking forward to a lazy afternoon- renting the whole place meant we only had to leave by 5pm. It was time to unwind from the unwinding and to continue enjoying the warm weather.

About: Finca listings in Santagueda

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El Peñol de Guatapé: Week 230

View of the man made lakes and El Penol: Guatape, Colombia

The route between Manizales and Medellín winds heavily along rivers and mountain ridges. Despite the narrow shoulder, houses, restaurants, and truck stops cling to the entire route. It is a beautiful drive, but not one you are able to appreciate if you prone to suffer from carsickness.

At the South Terminal in Medellín we caught a taxi to the North Terminal and from there we caught a bus to Guatapé. In front of us was a small group of tourists from Britain. All three were dutifully planning their next move in their travel notebooks, but they had absolutely no idea when they needed to get off the bus. Their heads poked up like gophers anytime traffic slowed.

Town shield and zocalo detail: Guatape, Colombia

The bus station in Guatapé was right along the malecón. With the exception of the zipline, the land along the waterfront was undeveloped. Dirt footpaths led from the sidewalk down to the boat docks, which made a killing during their sunset outings. We bought some sausages from one of the numerous food carts and walked to the end of town and across a bridge to our hostel.

We had learned from out last excursion that it is important to have a reservation during a three-day weekend. The only problem, we soon discovered, was that our reservation was one of the multiple overbookings at the hostel. Knowing there would be nothing else available in town, the owner offered us a mattress in the reception area.

“And how much will that cost?” I crankily asked.

“Free!” He replied. “Qué pena.” How embarrassing.

Sleeping inside the hostel reception, Guatape, Colombia

The bed was narrow, but we were able to fit comfortably and just when we turned in for the night we heard a timid rat-a-tat-tat at the door. I opened my eyes and saw the silhouette of a group of people out the window. “Barret, please open the door for them.”

Barret tossed off the sheets and unlocked the door. Our bed received a few curious glances, but then the next thing Barret knew he was helping people tally their beer from the fridge at the foot of our bed.

Colorful plaza: Guatape, Colombia

The long journey was worth it though. The following morning, once the rain stopped, Barret and I went into town for breakfast. Not many people were awake, so we had the streets to ourselves and a soft morning light for taking photos.

Guatapé is famous for its zócalos, the decorative boards the skirt all of the buildings. While the origin of zócalos is Spanish, the people of Guatapé have made them uniquely Colombian. The images cover a range of topics from local political events to traditional clothing and food.

Detail of an Avianca Airlines zocalo: Guatape, Colombia

Cobblestone streets with zocalos: Guatape, Colombia

Even the buildings on the outskirts of town were decorated. If not with zócalos, then at least with bright colors.

House with a horse zocalo: Guatape, Colombia

Block of colorful apartments next to a red rock: Guatape, Colombia

Row of painted houses with zocalos: Guatape, Colombia

Ticket stub for Penon de Guatape: Guatape, Colombia

After eating, Barret and I headed to El Peñol (aka Peñon de Guatapé). It is a massive, 200 meter high rock that towers over a landscape of man-made lakes and is also the most popular tourist destination in the area. While Guatapé had been quiet, El Peñol was a thriving mass of day trippers from Medellín. It did not detract from the experience, but it did make the climb up the zigzagging stairs feel like rush hour traffic.

Stairs leading up to the top of El Penol: Guatape, Colombia

El-Peñol-Stairs

Religious souvenir keychain from El Penol: Guatape, Colombia

There are a few things I feel like I can always count on in Colombia. The first is an abundance of religious trinkets and the second is a plethora of food stalls. On the summit of El Peñol I had a cup of salpicón (fruit cocktail) while Barret drank a Colombian michelada- beer with lime juice and a salt-rimmed glass. Together we shared sliced green mangoes covered in lime and salt. The steep ascent made us appreciate our refreshments all the more because we knew everything was carried up by hand. The mango we were eating had beaten us to the top by about 20 minutes.

One of the beautifully decorated tuk tuks that run to El Penol: Guatape, Colombia

Returning to Guatapé the cost for the tuk tuk (mototaxi) doubled, so Barret and I decided to walk the overgrown footpath back into town. Once we arrived we continued through the backstreets, which were just as decorated as the center of town, and out into the country on the way to a Benedictine monastery. The road was very quiet and the country views were peaceful. Had it not been late in the day, we would have continued all the way to the monastery. However, our feet were tired, so we turned back for dinner.

The backstreets of Guatape, Colombia

The cobblestone streets of Guatape in the evening: Colombia

The streetlights flashed on in the evening and warmed the cobblestone streets of Guatapé. Barret and I ended the night at a restaurant called D’Luigi. We sat in the back courtyard, which was filled with the scent of homemade pizza, and sipped a sweet version of mulled wine. The evening was perfect and the best part was that we had a proper hostel room to go back to.

Souvenir magnet from El Penol: Guatape, Colombia

How to get to El Peñol: From Guatapé it is a 15 minute tuk tuk ride or a 45 minute walk.

How to get to Guatapé: Hourly buses run from the North Terminal in Medellín.

Decorative fountain in the heart of the town: Guatape, Colombia

The Neighborhood Pub Crawl: Week 216

The Rose Hotel in Chippendale: Sydney, Australia

I have often contemplated the curious color palette of The Rose Hotel on my way to work. In the nicest way possible, I would say the names of the paint chips were Victorian Christmas and baby vomit.

Although I was very familiar with the exterior of the hotel, I hadn’t been inside until the ‘fight of the century’ between Mayweather and Pacquiao. The main bar with the trompe l’oeil ceilings was full, so Barret and I found a wood bench in the spacious courtyard and ordered a round of Bloody Marys with lunch. With the exception of one loud group, the audience was cheering for Pacquiao and when he lost the hotel quickly emptied.

A laundry line outside a house in Darlington: Sydney, Australia

Barret and I followed the exodus of people back out onto the street, but the afternoon weather was so nice that we decided to take a different route home. From Chippendale we walked through a quiet residential street in Darlington before ending up in Redfern.

A faded and peeling wall in Redfern: Sydney, Australia

It wasn’t so long ago that Redfern was a rough neighborhood, but the last decade has brought about significant gentrification. Strolling down Regent Street, Barret and I popped into an antique shop and against better judgment we left with two small spoons made from cow bones. Thin black decorative lines were carved into the polished surface.

Front door of The Bearded Tit in Redfern: Sydney, Australia

A few doors down from the antique shop was an establishment called The Bearded Tit. It’s an LGBT-friendly bar named after a puffy white bird that breeds in the reedy swamps of Europe and Asia. The backyard housed a ‘caravan of love’ and the gender-less bathrooms had a large moose hanging near the sinks.

A coaster at The Bearded Tit: Sydney, Australia

The best part about The Bearded Tit was its support for art. Local and international artists can apply to have their work displayed in a number of unique ways- from a wall to a curiosity cabinet. A ‘taxidermy tableaux’ surrounded a TV that was perfect for video art and resident artists could receive free bar food and 50% off drinks.

A small bakery on the Regent Street in Redfern: Sydney, Australia

After a round of champagne, Barret and I continued our circuitous journey home. Small family-owned restaurants, bakeries, and video rental relics lined the rest of Regent Street.

A terrace house in Erskineville: Sydney, Australia

It was dinnertime when we reached Erskineville, but neither of us wanted to cook so we walked through our neighborhood and towards the southern end of Newtown.

The Union Hotel in Newtown: Sydney, Australia

The Union Hotel had a lively cover band in the front and a large self-contained restaurant in the back. We ordered food and sat down near a father and his young daughter whom were both reading books. While there are more charming hotels further up King Street, Barret and I were both drawn to the classic brick Aussie hotel circa 1946.

The reason that I like Sydney’s inner west neighborhoods so much is that they are a perfect combination of historic buildings, livability, and community culture. It’s definitely not a cheap place to live, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better area for a stroll and a neighborhood pub crawl.

How to get to The Rose Hotel: 52-54 Cleveland Street, Chippendale NSW 2008

How to get to The Bearded Tit: 183 Regent Street, Redfern NSW 2016

How to get to the Union Hotel: 576 King Street, Newtown NSW 2042

Marble Bar: Week 210

Marble Bar: Sydney, Australia

There is something about old, soft marble that is so incredible appealing to me. The marble floors were the first thing I noticed when I inspected my current house. I’m not sure if it’s the original flooring, but a lifetime of foot traffic has left the surface smooth and as cool to the touch as a puddle of water.

I actually wish all the flooring in the house was marble. How delicious it would feel in the middle of a heat wave, how much quieter it would be than the squeaky wood planks in the dining room.

Marble Bar: Sydney, Australia

That’s kind of how Marble Bar feels- like a cool, dark sanctuary. It was originally constructed in 1893 with the finest Belgian and African marbles and financed through a horseracing sweepstakes. Originally known as the George Adams Bar, it was closed in 1968 and reopened five years later after being painstakingly reconstructed inside the Sydney Hilton.

One hundred and twenty-two years ago, it would have been the finest bar in the colony to escape to from a hot summer’s day. I could just imagine men in top hats twirling their moustaches and swirling their brandies. Nowadays, Marble Bar attracts celebratory office workers and tourists. The drinks are definitely priced more for the tourist end of that spectrum though.

Marble Bar: Sydney, Australia

At the end of the day I usually prefer a bargain, but it is nice to occasionally slip into something a bit more luxurious. For some people that might mean a Chanel dress. For me it means 100 tons of National Trust of Australia “A”-rated marble.

How to get to Marble Bar: LB1, Hilton Sydney Hotel, 488 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000

Perth & The Giants: Week 205

The Giants - Little Girl on a boat: Perth, Australia

Hey!” An older woman called out on my right. “Don’t push me!”

“I’m TRYING to walk!” A grumpy old man yelled back. Beads of perspiration dotted his bald scalp.

“So is everyone else.” The woman replied. “That doesn’t mean you have the right to push.”

“Aw, shut up you old cow.” 

The woman laughed, incredulously. The old man continued pushing through crowded Barrack Street and into a father with a newborn baby in his arms, then he stepped on a kid’s foot.

Don’t you trample my son!”

“Aw, shut up.” The old man yelled over his shoulder.

“Just because my son is little doesn’t mean he deserves to be pushed around and stepped on. Get some manners.”

The Giants - Diver: Perth, Australia

Barret and I had come to Perth over Valentine’s weekend to see The Giants- two massive marionettes that walked the streets of Perth thanks to a French troupe called Royal de Luxe. The production was the highest-attended public artwork ever in Perth and it was the showpiece of the Perth International Arts Festival. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the downtown area and at times it felt like the festival was suffering from its own popularity.

The Giants - Diver taking a drink of water: Perth, Australia

However, The Giants did not disappoint. From their costumes and props to their eerily human gestures- it was magical to watch. They stopped at intervals along their routes to do things like remove rain jackets, jump on cars for a ride, or take a cool sip of water. The diver had a glass plate on his helmet removed so he could quench his thirst with the help of a vintage fire engine.

Salvation Army Building: Perth, Australia

When the massive crowd became too much to handle, Barret and I headed back to a loft we found on AirBnB. It was inside an old Salvation Army building in the heart of Perth’s CBD. We took a shower, changed into our evening clothes, and wandered over to William Street in Northbridge.

Polaroid of Chinese shop window in Northbridge: Perth, Australia

The neighborhood is packed with good restaurants and nightlife. It’s such a diverse area that within a few blocks we went from a back alley Kung Fu studio in Chinatown to a South African restaurant named Baby Mammoth which serves curry just the way my mom makes it- sliced bananas on top. Breakfast at a paleo cafe and a nightcap at the hidden Ezra Pound. Our Vegas IDs always get a comment.

Polaroid of Perth architecture: Curtin House

Because the local university is also on William Street, we found a popular and affordable late night café. The Moon was filled with students and an instrumental quartet led by a micro-managing Peruvian. The music was pleasant, restrained, and unfortunately not loud enough to drown out the conversation behind us. “I like ketchup on everything.” Same person: “I don’t get it. How can you name a song with no lyrics?”

Barret and I shared a pizza, two glasses of the finest boxed wine, and settled into one of the many overstuffed couches. Around one in the morning we plucked ourselves out of our comfortable seats and went outside to hail an  airport taxi. We had a redeye flight to Sydney and a full day at work ahead of us.

Polaroid of black cockatoo street art: Perth, Australia

I had been feeling quite ambitious when I booked this trip. Barret and I packed a lot of walking and not a lot of sleep into two full days- but you know what? It was worth it. The Giants were stunning and the city did not disappoint. My only regret is that I did not have more time to spend in Perth.

The Giants: Perth, Australia

About: Perth International Arts Festival

About: The Giants

The-Giants-Hanging-Girl

How to get to Baby Mammoth: 2/305 William Street, Northbridge WA 6003

How to get to The Moon: 2/323 William Street, Northbridge WA 6003

How to get to Ezra Pound: 189 William Street, William Lane, Northbridge WA 6000

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